Saudi Royal Health Scare: Why It Matters

"Suddenly the health of three of the most powerful men in Saudi Arabia is in the news.

King Abdullah, who is 86, is preparing to travel to America for the treatment of a herniated disc.

Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz has been rushed home from recuperation in Morocco.

Another contender for the throne, the governor of Riyadh, Prince Salman, is coming home after surgery abroad.

Even by Saudi standards - where princes at the top of the hierarchy are all of advanced age - this is a highly unusual combination of events And this may explain why the Saudi royal family has been relatively quick in releasing the news about the health of the king.

The family has sought to reassure oil markets and their international allies that there will be no power vacuum while King Abdullah is abroad. The health of Saudi kings and princes in line for the throne matters not only for the Saudis, but for the whole world. Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest oil producers, and controls more than a fifth of the world's crude reserves.

So, any uncertainty over who controls the oil taps can make markets jittery - the last thing the world wants now in times of global economic troubles. But it's not only about oil. The petrodollars have given the Saudis diplomatic muscle as never before.

As key Western allies and important regional players, their support and clout is needed in dealing with many of the region's intractable conflicts: in Lebanon, Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the ongoing stand-off with Iran."